Konstantin Makovsky's opulent depictions of boyar life were the most popular in the artist's lifetime and regularly appeared in contemporary journals such as Niva. During a period of history which saw the traditional structure of Russian society change dramatically these works evoked the romance, colour and extravagance of a lost and untouchable age and represented the values of a generation which looked to the past for its national identity.
This exceptionally fine piece illustrates why Makovsky was one of the most sought-after society portrait painters of his day. Although the subjects of these historical 'pretty faces' were an imagined ideal of beauty inspired by the facial features of Makovsky's wife and daughters, the effect is magnificent and character of the young boyarina, dressed in luxurious fabrics and pearl-encrusted ceremonial attire, is utterly believable. Her contemplative demeanour and gaze diverted away from the viewer suggests that perhaps she is about to participate in the kissing rite, a traditional ceremony performed for visitors, when the head of a boyar household would order his lavishly dressed wife to kiss a cup of wine and hand it to the guest.
Makovsky owned a vast collection of seventeenth century costumes and household objects, which he would use to dress up his models in the tableaux vivants for larger-scale, multi-figure compositions. Into these theatrical settings he would then incorporate the characters created in portrait studies such as the offered lot, which is exemplary of the artist's supreme skill in creating the illusion of detail and texture. Short and deftly applied slanting strokes convey the effect of light catching the surface of expensive embellished fabrics, and the subject appears to glow as Makovsky brings to life his vision of a bygone age.
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